My Very Own Engine

20 HP Advance

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7050A S. 27th Street Oak Creek, Wisconsin 53154

I guess you could say I'm just a youngster when it comes to steam engines and old farm machinery. Actually, I have been involved with this stuff for almost all of my twenty-six years of existence. My grandfather, Carl Bruss, was a big influence for me in the hobby. He had quite an extensive collection of gas engines, as well as tractors. It was with him that I started going to tractor and engine shows back in the Seventies. I was always fascinated with the big gas tractors, and especially those big fire-breathing steam engines. Over the next twenty years our family became heavily involved in the hobby of collecting old tractors. With the help of my grandfather, dad, and brother, we have restored several tractors and engines with names such as Allis, Oliver, Case, Silver King, Centaur and Haas, just to name a few. There was only one problem I still had a very strong desire to own a steam engine.

In 1992 I became good friends with another youngster in the hobby by the name of Dean Meissner. Dean was much like myself, in his mid-twenties with a great desire to own a steam engine. Dean had the one thing that I didn't have yet and that was the knowledge of how to handle a steam engine. It was through Dean that I was able to get to know some of the people involved with the steam hobby, and had the opportunity to get behind the controls of some of these monsters.

It was at one of the late summer shows of 1992 that Dean and I were talking about steam engines, and he suggested that we should pool our money together and buy an engine. My eyes immediately lit up, and I said, 'Sure.' After all, this would be the perfect opportunity for me. You can always use an extra set of hands when running an engine, and best of all, the cost of buying and restoring the engine would be split in half. As the winter of 1992-93 progressed, we kept our eyes and ears open for any leads on engines.

Dean had remembered a 50 HP Case near Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that belonged to a widow. Dean had looked at this engine prior to our partnership idea, but at that time the lady was not ready to sell. Both Dean and I had already agreed on the amount of money we would spend on a steam engine. In February of 1993, we decided to take a ride to see this engine perhaps she might be ready to sell. If nothing else, I would have the chance to see another steam engine that I had not yet seen. We spent a good part of the morning looking over the engine. We both agreed the engine was in good shape. It did, however, need some work, but it was nothing that couldn't be fixed.

We decided on a fair price for the engine and proceeded to the house to talk with the owner. At this point we were not even sure she would sell the engine. After talking with her for some time and finding out some of the history of the engine, we asked the big question. Would she be interested in selling it? She thought about it for a short time and said, to my surprise, 'I suppose. It's not doing anyone any good sitting in the shed.' Within a half hour we all agreed on a price and Dean and I became the proud owners of a 50 Case.

20 HP Advance #14577 previously owned by Rory and Marcia Esch, now owned by Fred and Paul Reckel berg and Larry Hamm.

We spent the next several months restoring the engine. During the restoration, I became more familiar with the operation and care of a steam engine. We finished the restoration just in time for our local show in June of 1993. Over the next two years, we took the engine to several shows throughout southeastern Wisconsin. It seemed like every time we fired it, I would learn a little bit more. I guess it's true what they say, 'You never stop learning.' Owning a steam engine gave me a chance to meet several people involved with the steam engine end of the hobby, that I would not have had the opportunity to meet previously.

After almost two years of owning a steam engine in a partnership, I felt I was ready to have my very own engine. In the fall of 1994, I approached Dean about the possibility of buying out his half of the 50. He thought about my offer for a couple of weeks and decided that he wasn't interested in selling his half. With that in mind, I made the decision to sell him my half of the engine and began the search for my very own engine.

During these last two years, I had the opportunity to run a few different engines. I ran engines with names like Nichols & Shepard, Advance Rumely, and of course, many different Case engines. It seemed that I couldn't go to a steam show without having a chance to run someone's engine. I was like a kid in a candy shop when someone would ask me to run his engine for him. I can remember at one show I was running Jim Tesch's 25-85 Nichols & Shepard and Jim Johnson from Dane, Wisconsin, came up behind the engine and said to me, 'You must be a pretty good engineer if Jim Tesch trusts you running his engine.' I looked over at Jim Tesch, who at the time was standing next to Jim Johnson, and he just winked at me and smiled. That will be a day I will remember for a long time.

During the winter of 1994-95, I began my quest for my own engine. I had my mind made up that I wanted a 65 Case. I began to track down every lead given to me. I would get a call almost once a week from my very good friend Chuck Sindelar. Chuck keeps in touch with steam people all over the country, and he knew of a few 65s around for sale. I think Chuck wanted me to have an engine almost as bad as I did. It seemed like I spent most of my free time on the phone tracking down these leads that Chuck would give me.

The engine lineup at Fred Reckel berg's place in Luxemberg, Wisconsin. Left to right, 20 HP Advance #14577 now owned by the Reckelbergs and Larry Hamm; Fred's 1898 13 HP Reeves, and my 80 HP Case and Fred's 65 Case #35645.

My first taste of owning and restoring a steam engine was this 50 Case #30116 now owned by Dean Meissner.

In May of 1995, I went to a swap meet with a good friend of mine by the name of Herb Wilke. Herb is another young 'steam head' just like myself. He has the hopes of owning his own engine someday. But for the time being, he is always around to lend a hand to anyone who needs one. On our way home from the swap meet we decided to stop and visit Ralph Hoggle, another steam engine collector from Slinger, Wisconsin. I was interested in showing Herb his large collection of steam engines.

While we were visiting with Ralph, he said, 'I heard you were looking for an engine? I don't know of any 65s for sale, but I do know of an 80 Case for sale in northern Wisconsin.' This certainly perked my attention. But, I thought I would never be able to afford an 80 Case. I took the information from Ralph and headed home. The entire way home I was talking with Herb about the possibility of owning an 80 Case. The idea seemed unthinkable.

That evening, when we returned home, I decided to give the owner of the 80 a phone call. Not only did he have the Case for sale, but he also had a 20 horse Advance for sale. He wanted to sell the two engines as a pair, because he wanted the money to buy another steam engine.

A few weeks had passed and I decided to take a ride to see these two engines. After all, it would be a nice Sunday drive for my wife Marcia and me. It was only about three hours northwest of where I live. As it turns out, the engines were stored at the show grounds in Edgar, Wisconsin. As we visited with the owner of the engines, I looked them over with a fine tooth comb. He told me both engines had current state inspections. He also told me the only reason he was selling the pair was to purchase a different engine.

After a few hours of looking at his engines and all the other engines stored permanently at the show grounds, he named his price for the two engines. I tried to talk him into selling me just the 80 Case, but he wouldn't separate the two engines. We left Edgar that afternoon with mixed feelings. I sure wanted that Case but I couldn't afford both engines, nor did I have the space for two engines.

About a week had gone by when the phone rang. It was Mr. Sommer the man with the engines. He told me he would lower his asking price for the pair. I told him I was only interested in the Case, and if he didn't want to separate the two, then I wasn't interested. My wife Marcia and I had talked about his lower offer and thought the price sure didn't sound bad for two engines. A few hours later that same night, the phone rang again. It was Mr. Sommer. This time he lowered his asking price again and was willing to throw in a large Aultman & Taylor separator. I couldn't believe my ears. I told Mr. Sommer I wasn't interested in the separator, but if he would lower the price again I might be interested. I think Marcia could have picked my jaw off the floor when he agreed to lower the price again. I couldn't believe it. Before I would agree on the price, I wanted to see the engines one more time. I took a day off of work and chased up to see the two engines again. We agreed on a price and I became the owner of not one, but two engines.

My next concern was to figure out how to get them both home. I made a call to the most sought-after steam engine hauler in the state of Wisconsin, Fred Reckelberg. Fred agreed to haul the engines home for me. He decided it would be easier for him to haul both engines to his place and then a few days later he would haul them home for me. While I was on the phone with Fred discussing trucking details, I mentioned to him that I really didn't want the Advance. I had every intention of selling it as soon as I could find someone interested. My main interest was just the Case. Fred quickly questioned what I was going to ask for the Advance. I had never really thought about it. Fred told me he would call me back in a couple days to finalize the hauling plans and I should have a price in mind for the Advance. He knew of a couple of guys that might be interested in buying it as a group. Marcia and I agreed on what we thought would be a fair asking price. Fred called back a few days later and I told him my price. He said he would get back to me in a few days, but in the meantime, he would haul both engines back to his place.

Fred called me the following weekend to tell me both engines were safely hauled to his place. He told me if I wanted to, I could come up to try out the engines on his sawmill. He didn't have to ask me twice. Marcia and I made plans for the following weekend to go to the Reckelbergs and run our very own engines. We had a wonderful time! We only fired the 80 because that was the engine I was mainly interested in. We put it on the sawmill for most of the afternoon.

While the 80 was on the sawmill, we noticed a major problem. The governor wasn't responding like it should. We took the engine off the sawmill and parked it in line with Fred's engines. We spent the rest of the day visiting. Fred told me the group of guys interested in the Advance agreed on the price. When he delivered the 80 Case during the week, he would straighten up with me for the Advance. The group purchasing the Advance was Fred, his son Paul and Larry Hamm. I couldn't believe I had sold the Advance before I hauled it home!

Now I could direct all of my attention towards the Case. I wanted to have my engine ready for the Sussex show at the end of August. Before I could take it to a show, I needed to have the engine inspected, and to get the governor working properly. All of this work took me right up until show time, but we made it. I took my very own engine to the Sussex Show. I was like a peacock with a new set of tail feathers. I ran the engine on the sawmill Saturday morning, but I still wasn't happy with the governor. With the help of Paul and Mike Garity, we figured out that the pulley on the governor was too small, causing the governor to spin too fast. I had already made plans to take the engine to Edgerton, Wisconsin, the following weekend for the Rock River Threshere Paul Garity offered to make me a new pulley, the right size, at work during the week and bring it to the show the following weekend. Paul is an expert machinist whose talent is easy to see in his excellent working scale model of a 110 Case. Just as Paul said, he showed up Friday morning with the pulley. After we put the new pulley on the governor, we proceeded to the sawmill. To my amazement, it was a night and day difference. The governor responded to the first cut almost before the log hit the saw. Before putting the engine away for the winter, we took it to one more show at Union Grove, Wisconsin.

I have big plans for the 80 this winter. I would like to find lugs for the rear drivers and to do a complete restoration. I would really like to find out what year this engine was built. Unfortunately, the serial number tag is missing and all I have to work with is the boiler number. Mr. Sommer claims the engine is a 1923 model, but I would like to confirm this somehow. I am told the later 80s were fitted with a Gould balanced valve, and my engine does have a Gould valve. If anyone has information on this, I would really appreciate it.

I would like to thank everyone who helped make this dream of mine come true. Chuck, Herb, Ralph, Phil, Fred, Dean, the Garitys my parents, and especially my companion in life, my wife Marcia. Marcia has been absolutely wonderful through all of this. She was always willing to go on my wild goose chases to look at engines. Now, she is always willing to go to the shows with me. She actually enjoys helping out on the engine. She has even taken on the job of starting the fire in the morning while I grease and oil everything. I guess you could say that we are the proud owners of our very own engine!